Meet the Supes: Q&A with Eric Johnson
How did you first get into the music industry?
The short story is that I was just a punk/art/music kid living in Portland Oregon, participating in the creative/music scene and working as the Music Director of PSU’s college radio station, KPSU 1450AM. I had a weekly show as well when I received an email out of the blue from someone who worked at Wieden + Kennedy at the time. It led to a series of conversations with W+K, which led them to hiring me to work in the production department. At first, it was mere curiosity and a need for a more steady job that led me there, but once I got there, I saw what an incredibly creative place it was, with amazing creative/talented people and so I thought to myself that I should try to stick around and be a sponge for learning. Working at Wieden + Kennedy effectively became my master’s degree in advertising and as my role there developed, I eventually became the only in-house music supervisor. It was a dream job. And nearly 19 years later, I’m still having such a wonderful time in my role at McCann and in this industry.
Can you tell us about some of your upcoming projects?
I run a small music department at McCann and so we’re constantly working on tons of projects. We’re not client-specific – meaning that we can and do get pulled into any/every client project we have going on. This means working with great brands such as Microsoft, MGM, Mastercard, Verizon, L’Oreal, USPS, Cigna, etc. I can’t give you any specific details but suffice it to say we are working on various forms of projects where music meets branding. This means: music supervision (sync), commissioning original music and scores, as well as experiential projects, brand partnerships and activations. Super exciting work, all the time. Winning awards and making great work for our clients with the help of amazing music and musicians.
What do you think of the Canadian Music scene?
The Canadian music scene seems to be incredibly vibrant. From heritage acts to contemporary ones, you’ve never had a shortage of musical creativity. Drake naturally tops my list. But dig a little deeper and you’ll see that your very own, Frank Dukes, is behind the production on not only some of Drake’s work but is effectively the hardest working man you may never have heard of. Check out this article.
Also, I had the pleasure and privilege to work with William Prince on our Mastercard Grammys project with SZA this past year. Such a fan of his.
Aside from value and/or ‘buzz’ factor, what are some of the benefits of placing music by an unsigned or independent artist?
For me, the benefits of that kind of placement is the sheer joy I get of supporting emerging talent. Everyone needs a break and I get such a personal kick out of being able to lend that kind of support – be it financial or promotional – to indie talent. And for our brands that I’m working with, it gives them a chance to align with talent on the ground floor – so to speak. This usually means not only some cost efficiencies but the ability to truly partner with talent and have a mutually beneficial relationship, in which each party involved, reaps rewards and goodness.
What’s the #1 song you’re dying to sync in a piece of media (a film, TV show, video game or ad/trailer), and where would you like to use it?
Ha. Great question. I have an answer for you but it’s a secret. I love my fellow contemporaries in this industry and I think we all have a healthy competitive spirit. Therefore I can’t give up my special stash. That said, I will tell you one of my favourite sync pieces recently was the use of Bill Callahan’s song “Drover” in Netflix’s Wild Wild Country series. I loved that it did the heavy lifting by playing against expectations. So perfect.
What’s your favourite sync moment of all time (in any piece of media)?
One of my favourite sync moments was the use of “Follow The Yellow Brick Road” in a Wrangler TV commercial directed by Jonathan Glazer. Nowadays, that kind of juxtaposed use of an iconic/heritage track is more common, but at the time, it was revolutionary. Still love it.
And one of my personal faves that I placed was for Nike when I was still at W+K. It was for a Lebron James spot and featured the cover of “I Shall Be Released” by Marion Williams. It was such a simple use of the song against a slow-motion shot. And working with Bob Dylan’s manager was a dream. He’s one of the best people I’ve ever worked with in sync/clearance.
What are some of the most common mistakes you see independent artists make when they want to approach or pitch music to you?
One of the biggest roadblocks- I wouldn’t call it a mistake – is me just being short on time to check out things that I’ve never heard of or been recommended. My bandwidth is so eaten up that in prioritizing my time, it’s quite hard to get a cold-call/email from someone pitching their music. I look to friends, trusted music sources (all the industry folks I chat with on a regular basis) and my own digging/going down rabbit holes. So my recommendation to an independent artist would be to hone your craft, hustle and get some recognition in the music industry – even just a little – before you’d hit us up. A little recognition/buzz goes a long way and I truly believe that cream rises to the top. Don’t worry about landing a sync before you’re really on your way to knowing who you are as an artist. Build your own brand a bit and then let’s talk. I love supporting independent/emerging artists (just check out my past work as proof), so I’ll be here when you’re a little more ready.
What’s the most unusual way a piece of music that you’ve used has come into your hands?
From me going down deep Soundcloud/Bandcamp rabbit holes and discovering deep no-name (yet) talent.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve ever faced as a supervisor?
In general, I’d say navigating the clearance issues that arise can be difficult – in that they can be twisty and time-consuming. But you just roll up your sleeves and dig in.
If you had to describe your personality in one song title. What title would it be and why?
“Ladies and gentlemen we are floating in space” by Spiritualized.
Because to me it encapsulates both the futility and sadness and existential crisis of the human condition while simultaneously speaking to human joy by allowing freedom of constraints and unlimited possibilities for curiosity, passion and love. Dark/light. Yin-yang. The complexities of life. Soak it up now, always. As Prince Buster says “Enjoy yourself, it’s later than you think. Enjoy yourself, while you’re still in the pink”.
What are some artists or songs that you’re really excited about right now?
Aside from an amazing/crazy record dig I went on in Jamaica recently in which I found a ton of 45s, here’s some of my favourite music of 2018:
Kids See Ghosts
Ross From Friends